Doctor Who, Story 29: The Tenth Planet
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New to DVD! Digitally remastered Doctor Who classic The Tenth Planet! (NOT FINAL) The TARDIS arrives in December 1986 at a South Pole Space Tracking station where the personnel, under the command of General Cutler, are engaged in trying to talk down a manned space capsule that has got into difficulty. The Doctor realizes that the problem stems from the gravitational pull of another planet that has entered the solar system and is now heading for Earth. His words are borne out when the base is invaded by a force of alien Cybermen. The Cybermen's world, Mondas, is draining energy from Earth - once its 'twin planet' - and the situation will soon become critical.
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Once again, BBC Video have opted to recreate the missing episode, using animation synched to the surviving soundtrack. Once again, it's a bit hit and miss how it's turned out, but generally, this may be the best attempt at animation they've achieved so far. The characters are very well drawn and very naturally animated. The backgrounds are all very much in sync with the surviving material and the detail is excellent. However, just as with the animation for The Reign Of Terror, they've got a bit over zealous with the animation detail. The faces and hair of the characters are just a bit overdone. In order to create shades, tones and shadow, they've just got a bit too carried away. They've reigned in the temptation to jump the camera cuts as quickly as they did before, but it still doesn't feel that it's paced at the same speed as the live action episodes 1-3. It's just a little too fast. It is nonetheless a huge improvement on both Reign of Terror and The Ice Warriors. A really good attempt to recreate something that otherwise would be lost.
There is an enjoyable commentary for the three surviving episodes, but nothing added to the animated episode 4 at all. Not even on screen production notes. It's a little disappointing there's no commentary, but in all honesty, everyone still alive who could contribute does so in the accompanying documentary and stand alone interviews, so the likelihood would have been the commentary would be repetitive or completely redundant. It's thus totally forgivable for it to be omitted. The one minor criticism for the reproduction of the three surviving episodes is that once again, the picture has been cleaned and enhanced to a state way beyond it's original transmission format. It's now just too good. As a result, we can clearly see the eyes of the actors playing the Cybermen and worse, the sellotape holding their helmets together is on full, vivid display. 405 line TV definition in monochrome would never have picked either of these things up at the time. We want the best for the DVD's of course, but applying modern technology to ancient video tape does have it's drawbacks.
It's not that great a story in the Dr Who canon, despite it's historical significance (the debut of The Cybermen is also hugely noteworthy in DW history) but it's by no means the worst of the late Hartnell adventures. Rumours abound that a couple more of his stories are about to be rediscovered, but until that is either confirmed or denied, this is the end of the Hartnell DVD era. Perfectly timed for the 50th anniversary.
Sure, there is a bit of a gaping plot hole- Um, so the Cybermen steered their planet? LOL But I stumbled across an audio book by Big Finish Productions, Doctor Who: Spare Parts, that actually addresses that with the 5th Doctor. I've added it to my cart and look forward to it! :)
Nevertheless, even with the minimal presence of the Doctor, this is certainly an entertaining serial that one can simply enjoy as a very prophetic space adventure. Even with the low budgets available, the set dressing is quite good. In fact, when I watch these old black and white serials and see such great settings, I have to really wonder quite harshly at some of the complete cheese that many of the Dr. Who serials from the 70s/80s offered up. If they can make such an interesting Mission Control and realistic looking Barracks, why couldn't the designers fifteen years or more later manage the same?
The acting performances are generally excellent, even General Cutler's mania and his underplayed concern for his son (I have known real life military officers who were fairly the same type of character). The space capsule scenes are absolutely well done, and I was repeatedly struck by the realism of the interplayed dialogues between the various supporting cast. With good reason since the script writer was an ACTUAL scientist who had been the scientific advisor for Dr. Who for the preceding year. A far cry from much of the babble-fluff techno-gibberish that draped across later Dr. Who scripts!
The 4th episode's animation is, yes indeed, very well done, and to echo another reviewer, I too would so purchase Dr. Who serials that used this form of animation for lost video but surviving audio recordings. So now I have yet another reason for putting off buying SHADA (Story 109). If they can treat lost scenes like this, why would I want to look at a storybook layout with simple narration? :P
Documentary extras are very good; the "Making Of" being, in all seriousness, one of the best I have seen on ANY Dr. Who DVD. It's frank, honest, and informative. Most "Making Of" documentaries tend to ply on the self-laudatory fluffy congratulations or apologetic reasoning, but the "Making of The Tenth Planet" takes a look at the background in a refreshingly open way. Plus, for the enthusiast, the DVD also has the original VHS 4th episode stills recreation, including the surviving video clip of the ground-breaking (and marvelous even today) regeneration scene.
Unfortunately, I can't tag THE TENTH PLANET as one of the Best of Early Dr. Who simply because the Doctor just doesn't have any impact, it being pretty much all Ben (even Polly doesn't do much except make coffee and get locked up a few times). Yet it is certainly worth an Honorable Mention and a recommended buy for all Dr. Who lore enthusiasts!